Tag Archives: High School Teaching

Documents from the Slaves’ Civil War: Union Troops Return a ‘Fugitive Slave’ at St. Augustine

“I regret to inform you that I found the place [St. Augustine] full of open and avowed traitors. I was insulted in the streets by secession females. I learned that there were women residing there whose husbands are in the rebel service, and who are receiving rations from our Government. Seventy-five slaves are receiving wages from our people, who are owned by rebel masters, and their wages are paid over to the agents of these masters.

St Augustine Slave Market
The ‘Old Slave Market’ at St. Augustine, ca. 1886
Courtesy of Southern Methodist University, DeGolyer Library

[Recounting an incident involving a slave handed over to his ‘master’ in Florida]: While I was in St. Augustine, I was informed…that a fugitive slave who ran away from his rebel master—a man named Col. Titus (of Kansas notoriety)* and who holds a commission in the rebel army—was delivered up to said Titus by virtue of an order signed by Capt. Foster [in] circumstances…so disgraceful to our army that I felt it my duty to report them. This negro came to our lines from his rebel master heavily [wounded], having traveled a distance of eight miles in this condition to our pickets. He remained with our troops until [Titus] came with an order signed by Capt. Foster…directing Col. Sleeper to deliver him to his owner. He was delivered to Col. Titus. On receiving this negro Col. Titus put a slipping noose rope around the negro’s neck, with a timber pitch at his arm, mounted his horse and dragged the poor victim off in the presence of our troops….

On the day of my arrival [at St Simon’s Island, Georgia] a party of rebels came over to the island for the purpose of murdering the negroes. They were immediately attacked by the negro pickets and surrounded in a swamp. There were about twenty men on either side, and quite a brisk action occurred. The negroes lost two killed and one wounded severely. The rebel loss is not known, as they fled, and succeeded in making their escape from the island….”

General Rufus B. Saxton to Edwin M. Stanton, 20 Aug 1862, Rufus and S. Willard Saxton Papers, Sterling Memorial Library: Yale University

* Colonel Henry T. Titus (after whom the town of Titusville, Florida, is named) was a northern-born Confederate who before the war had traveled to Kansas to join proslavery ‘border ruffians’ there, playing a prominent role in the sacking of Lawrence and at one point reportedly holding two of John Brown’s sons as prisoners.

Advertisements

Documents from the Slaves’ Civil War: “A storm am brewin’ in de Souf”

Rice
Antebellum Georgetown was key to South Carolina’s lucrative rice industry: like much of the Carolina lowcountry it was home to large slave majorities

In his Life in Dixie Land, or the South in Secession Time, ‘Edmund Kirke’ (pen name for the New York journalist James R. Gilmore) records the following conversation he had with a slave teamster in 1862. According to Kirke, his driver was African-born, and had been brought to the Carolinas at a young age via Cuba, eventually ending up working as a porter on the streets and wharves of Georgetown, 65 miles north of Charleston. Kirke remarks that “three days with him (a ‘remarkable negro’ of ‘superior intelligence’) banished from my mind all doubt as to the capacity of the black for freedom, and all question as to the disposition of the slave to strike off his chains when the favourable moment arrives. From him I learned that the blacks, though pretending ignorance, are fully acquainted with the questions at issue in the present contest.” As an example Kirke recalls the response he received (rendered ‘in dialect’) when he suggested that the war would leave the slaves “no better off”: “No, massa, ‘t won’t do that. De Souf will fight hard, and de Norf will get de blood up, and come down har, and do ‘way wid de cause ob all de trubble–and dat am de nigga…. When (the South) fight de Norf wid de right hand, dey’ll hev to hold de nigga wid de the leff.”

Bright Side
Winslow Homer’s “Bright Side” (1865) depicts black teamsters at rest in a Union Army camp

As an example of the slaves’ familiarity with the essence of the war, Kirke recalled the words of a song “then current among the negroes of the district.” Its content is the more remarkable for the fact that it seems to have foreseen enlistment of black northerners in the Union Army:

Hark! Darkies, hark! It am de drum

Dat calls ole Massa way from hum,

Wid powder-pouch and loaded gun,

To drive ole Abe from Washington;

Oh! Massa’s gwine to Washington,

So clar de way to Washington–

Oh! wont dis darky hab sum fun

When Massa’s gwine to Washington!

Ole Massa say ole Abe will eat

De niggas all, excep’ de feet–

De feet, may be, will cut and run

When Massa gets to Washington.

Dis nigger know ole Abe will save

His brudder man, de darky slave,

And dat he’ll let him cut and run

When Massa gets to Washington.

The next is in similar vein:–

A storm am brewin’ in de Souf,

A storm am brewin’ now,

Oh! hearken den and shut your mouf,

And I will tell you how:

And I will tell you how, ole boy,

De Storm of fire will pour,

And make de darkies dance for joy,

As dey neber danced afore.

So shut your mouf as close as deafh,

And all you niggas hole your breafh,

And I will tell you how.

De darkies at de Norf am rise,

And dey am comin’ down–

Am comin’ down, I know dey is,

To do de white folks brown!

Dey’ll turn ol’ Massa out to grass,

And set de niggas free,

And when dat day am come to pass

We’ll all be dar to see!

So shut your mouf as close as deafh,

And all you niggas hole your breafh,

And do de white folks brown!

‘Den all de week will be as gay

As am de Chris’mas time;

We’ll dance all night and all de day,

And make de banjo chime–

And make de banjo chime, I tink,

And pass de time away,

Wid ’nuff to eat and ’nuff to drink,

And not a bit to pay!

So shut your mouf as close as deafh,

And all you niggas hole your breafh,

And make de banjo chime.

Oh! make de banjo chime, you nigs,

And sound de tamborin,

And shuffle now de merry jigs,

For Massa’s ‘gwine in’–

For Massa’s ‘gwine in,’ I know,

And won’t he hab de shakes,

When Yankee darkies show him how

Dey cotch de rattlesnakes!

So shut your mouf as close as deafh,

And all you niggas hole your breafh,

For Massa’s ‘gwine in’–

For Massa’s ‘qwine in,’ I know,

And won’t he hab de shakes,

When Yankee darkies show him how

Dey cotch the rattlesnakes!*

*symbol for the state of South Carolina

Source: Edmund Kirke, Life in Dixie Land, or The South in Secession Time (London, 1863), 14-16.

Documents on the Slaves’ Civil War: The 1st SC Regiment Marches into Beaufort

1st South Carolina Infantry (USCT)

I do not think I ever had quite so proud a day…. Today, for the first time I marched my whole regiment through Beaufort & back. They did march splendidly, as all admit. The dear 51st did not compare with them… To look back on twenty broad double ranks of men, (for we marched by platoons) every polished musket with a black face at the side of it, every face steady to the front, marching on into the future; it was magnificent, and when we returned, marching by the flank, (this is in fours,) with guns at “support arms,” & each man covering his file leader, (the prettiest way of marching in the world) the effect was as fine. I had cautioned them before we left, not to be staring about but to look straight before them, & with their accustomed fidelity they did it. One of them said, since, “I didn’t see anything in Beaufort–every step was worth half a dollar,” & they all stepped as if it were so. It was just the way my old company used to do in Worcester–only think of the difference–what character & culture did there–here the evoked self-reliance of a race does with drill & personal magnetism of course added in both cases. And whereas there, as rival Captains indignantly averred, we [“]had the whole town to blow for us,” this was marching through throngs of prejudiced critics, officers & privates, who had all drilled as many months as we had weeks, & who were absolutely compelled to admit how admirably the regiment appeared. Dr. Rogers & others rode about among officers who came jeering and contemptuous, & had to say at last “they do splendidly,” one Captain in the N.H. 4th, the best drilled regiment here, & he bitterly pro slavery said in the hearing of our LtColonel [sic], to a circle of officers, “There is nothing in this Department that can excel them.” And indeed one of our recruits, who did not march with the regiment, watching the astonishment of some white soldiers, said, “De buckra soldiers look like a man who done steal a sheep“! i. e. I suppose sheepish.

from the War Journal of Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Camp Saxton [Port Royal, SC], 19 January 1863 (pp. 88-9)

Documents on the Slaves’ Civil War: 8000 Slaves Employed on SC Fortifications in the First 18 Months of the War

When I was in Charleston in the first part of last month, you will recollect I called your attention to the manner in which the negroes we had sent to work on the fortifications were managed. I complained that they were not divided off and assigned to the control or command of practical men acquainted with negroes and how to get work done, and so forth. You observed that you intended to have them divided off and strictly attended to. I know it is almost impossible to have anything done right, particularly if not in the direct line of military duty and service. There has been great irregularity in the manner of executing the requisition for negroes. Parts of neighborhoods have been taken down and others not even notified. The negroes have been retained beyond the time they were taken down for, and this too without giving any notice to their owners or agents. You know that all such things produce great dissatisfaction and complaint. If notice were given in advance, when negroes are absolutely required to remain, as a military necessity, it would be better. We have sent down in all some eight thousand negroes, and this produces in the aggregate much derangement in getting crops, so necessary for winter support. I hope it will not be long now before you can discharge all that belong to the country, and impress those who are in and around the city to finish as the work necessary to get in provisions is not required in and around the city, and there are many necessarily idle all the time in such a place. It strikes me too that, after cool weather, our soldiers could be directed to do much work, such as is done in other armies…. I tried to make a system last spring, by which a corps of negroes could be attached permanently to the army as Spades-men and axe-men, under military discipline and army regulations. I still think it could be done, and it would be far better than to derange agricultural labor in the rural district, by constantly calling for negro labor at times occasionally deeply injurious to raising or gathering of crops.

Governor Frances W. Pickens (South Carolina) to General P. G. T. Beauregard, 5 November 1862

Yorktown, Virginia (vicinity). Confederate fortifications reinforced with bales of cotton
Confederate fortifications reinforced with bales of cotton

 

Documents on the Slaves’ Civil War: A ‘Demoralized Spirit’ among the Slaves

The slave population of this district is very numerous—whilst the white is extremely small. For the purposes of police, there are not left us along the Rivers, men enough in any neighborhood to form a suitable Patrol. The government of the Police Court is the sole authority remaining to us to control the negroes and to keep order. The constant presence and proximity of the enemy exercise an unhappy influence over them and it has been the duty of the Police Court to resort to severe measures, in order to repress their demoralized spirit. In the past three years, eleven have accordingly been sentenced to suffer the extreme penalty of the Law and have been executed, and others have been punished for offenses committed against the peace and good order of the community—a condition of perfect quiet now exists here among us. …the status of the Police Court ought to be sustained, with a view to its dignity and usefulness, or its existence abolished.

Francis L. Parker, President of Police Court of Georgetown District to Governor Andrew G. Magrath, 24 December 1864

 
 

Documents on the Slaves’ Civil War: “My Children Sold as Pocketmoney”

[The author of the letter quoted below, Captain Percival Drayton, was a native of Charleston who served as ship commander in the Union naval fleet that captured Port Royal, SC, in November 1861. Remarkably, the Confederate defense at Port Royal was directed by his brother, the lowcountry planter Thomas F. Drayton (see the photo of his emancipated slaves below) of Hilton Head. Lydig M. Hoyt was a prominent New York socialite with whom Captain Drayton corresponded through much of the War. Drayton is writing here from aboard the USS Pawnee at Port Royal on the 24th of March, 1862.

As with all the documents included in the After Slavery website, we have chosen not to edit out racist and denigrating terms (eg ‘darkies’, ‘nigger’) that were commonly used by whites at the time, but to retain the language of the original: obviously this should not be read as an endorsement of such language.]

Slaves of Rebel Genl Hilton Head, LoC
Handwriting reads “Slaves of the Rebel General Thomas F. Drayton, Hilton Head”

“As we can scarcely expect to hold the South as a conquered people, at least with any comfort, the difficult part of the operation will still remain, even after armies and navies have performed their designated duties. I for one can see no peace while the slavery question remains unsettled, and while any portion of the community consider it a higher and more holy duty, to sell niggers than to have free institutions or civilization, and so far I doubt if our victories have as yet even weakened this belief. I must confess that after what I have seen here, of the horrors of the institution I would be willing to do anything except to destroy the Constitution that the power to do evil to ones fellows which can be and is exercised in many cases here, should within some named time cease, but believe that to make this feasible there must be a great deal more fighting. We meet here as you may suppose, with a good many remarkable cases bearing on the nigger question. One particularly which one of the officers related to me the other day would answer for Greeley. On Doboy Island, near St. Simons and Brunswick, they found one poor old man left, and fearing he might starve an offer was made to take him away, which he refused, as he said he had buried his wife only a little before on that spot, and preferred dying there. Some one asked him but have you had no children, yes massa thirteen but they were all sold for pocketmoney, and now that my wife is dead I am all alone. The officer who related the circumstance says, that the piteous manner in which this was said, so affected his companion and self that for some time neither felt like speaking. We have another fellow at present on board of my ship, who had been living in the bush for a year, because as he says he was so cruelly treated that death was better than being a longer subjectted to it [sic]. And he must be a pretty determined fellow, for he has been shot at, and bears many marks of what he calls nigger dogs. Now I don’t want to take away property enjoyed under the safeguard of the Constitution, but I do say that these horrors should cease by law in the nineteenth century.”

Percival Drayton to Lydig M. Hoyt, March 24, 1862, in Naval Letters from Captain Percival Drayton, 14-15

Percival Drayton.jpg
Union Naval Commander Percival Drayton

Documents on the Slaves’ Civil War: Charleston “Ripe for a Rebellion”

At Richmond and Wilmington…I found the slaves discontented, but despondingly resigned to their fate. At Charleston I found them morose and savagely brooding over their wrongs. They know and they dread the slaveholder’s power. They are afraid to assail it without first effecting a combination among themselves, which the ordinances of the city, that are strictly enforced, and the fear of a traitor among them, prevent. But if the guards who now keep nightly watch were to be otherwise employed—if the roar of hostile cannon was to be heard by the slaves, or a hostile fleet was seen sailing up the bay of Charleston—then, as surely as God lives, would the sewers of the city be instantly filled with the blood of the slave masters. I have had long and confidential conversations with great numbers of the slaves here, who trusted me because I talked with them, and acted toward them as a friend, and I speak advisedly when I say that they are already ripe for a rebellion, and that South Carolina dares not…secede from this Union of States. Her only hope of safety from wholesale slaughter is THE UNION. Laugh the secessionists to scorn, ye Union-loving sons of the north, for the negroes are prepared to “cement the Federal compact” once more—and really it needs it—with the “blood of despots,” and their own then free blood, too, if the “resistance-to-tyrants” doctrine in practice shall call for the solemn and voluntary sacrifice.

James Redpath, The Roving Editor: or, Talks with Slaves in the Southern States, 52-3

Documents on the Slaves’ Civil War: “Secret and Widespread Organization” among the Enslaved

[The following is an excerpt from Life in Dixie’s Land: Or, South in Secession Time, a memoir penned by James Roberts Gilmore, who wrote under the pseudonym Edmund Kirke. The conversation which he claims to have had with two slaves near Georgetown, SC in the immediate runup to the outbreak of the Civil War is rendered by him ‘in dialect’–a form of representation commonly used by whites, and one that almost always reinforced denigrating stereotypes about black intelligence. Here, however, Kirke combines an exaggerated dialect with a sympathetic assessment of the slaves’ alertness to the issues coming to head in the impending war. As with all the documents included in the After Slavery website, we have chosen not to edit out racist and denigrating terms (eg ‘darkies’, ‘nigger’) that were commonly used by whites at the time, but to retain the language of the original: obviously this should not be read as an endorsement of such language.

The setting in which the conversation takes place is as follows: Kirke is being transported by wagon into the SC interior by the driver ‘Scipio’, a slave on the plantation where Kirke spent the previous night; on the road, they meet up by chance with another slave teamster, Jim. Kirke’s reconstruction of the conversation that ensues offers a rare  glimpse into the seriousness with which the slaves approach the new possibilities being opened up by the war. While it is difficult to verify his conclusion that a “secret and widespread organization” existed among slaves in the South Carolina lowcountry, his observations render that conclusion plausible.]

Negro Teamsters
Black Teamsters Working for the Union Army

…. “Jim, this is Scip,” I said, seeing the darkies took no notice of each other.

“How’d d’ye do, Scipio?” said Jim extending his hand to him. A look of singular intelligence passed over the faces of the two negroes as their hands met; it vanished in an instant, and was so slight that none but a close observer would have detected it, but some words that Scip had previously let drop had put me on the alert, and I felt sure it had a hidden significance.

[later, after Jim has departed]

“Scip, did you know Jim before?” I asked.

“Hab seed him afore, massa, but neber know’d him.”

“How is it that you have lived in Georgetown five years, and have not known him?”

“I cud hab know’d him, massa, good many time, ef I’d liked, but darkies hab to be careful.”

“Careful of what?”

“Careful ob who dey knows; good many bad niggas ‘bout.”

P’shaw, Scip, you’re ‘coming de possum;’ there (73) isn’t a better nigger than Jim in all South Carolina. I know him well.”

“…. Come, Scip, you’ve played this game long enough. Tell me, now, what that look you gave each other when you shook hands meant…. If I should guess, ‘twould be that it meant mischief.”

“It don’t mean mischief, sar,” said the darky, with a tone and air that would not have disgraced a cabinet officer; “it meant only Right and Justice.”

“It means that there is some secret understanding between you.” (74)

“I told you, massa,” he replied… “dat de blacks am all Freemasons. I gabe Jim de grip, and he know’d me…..”

“Why did he call you Scipio? I called you Scip.”

Oh! de darkies all do dat. Nobody but de white folks call me Scip. I can’t say no more, massa; I SHUD BREAK DE OATH EF I DID.”

“You have said enough to satisfy me that there is a secret league among the blacks, and that you are a leader in it….”

[Kirke’s assessment of southern slaves]: The great mass of them are but a little above the brutes in their habits and instincts; but a large body are fully on a par, except in mere book-education, with their white masters.

From this conversation, together with others…I became acquainted with the fact, that there exists among the blacks a secret and wide-spread organization of a Masonic character, having its grip, pass-word, and oath [with] various grades of leaders, who are competent and earnest men, and its ultimate object is FREEDOM. (75)

The knowledge of the real state of political affairs which the negroes have acquired through this organization is astonishingly accurate; their leaders possess every essential of leadership—except, it may be, military skill, and they are fully able to cope with the whites.

The negro who I called Scipio, on the day before he or I knew of that event which set all South Carolina ablaze, foretold to me the breaking out of this war in Charleston harbor, and as confidently predicted that it would result in the freedom of the slaves! (77)

Kirke, Life in Dixie’s Land, 73-7

Documents on the Slaves’ Civil War: Slaves Feign Indifference while Battle at Sumter Rages

Sumter
Charlestonians Watch from Rooftoops as Fort Sumter is Bombarded in the Harbor

“Not by one word or look can we detect any change in the demeanor of these negro servants. Lawrence sits at our door, sleepy and respectful, and profoundly indifferent. So are they all, but they carry it too far. You could not tell that they even heard the awful roar going on in the bay, though it has been dinning in their ears night and day. People talk before them as if they were chairs and tables. They make no sign. Are they stolidly stupid? or wiser than we are; silent and strong, biding their time?”

Diary of Mary Boykin Chestnut, 13 April 1861 (38)

Documents on the Slaves’ Civil War: An Irish Traveler to Charleston on Slave Disaffection after Sumter, 1861

It was near nightfall before we set foot on the quay of Charleston. The city was indicated by the blaze of lights, and by the continual roll of drums, and the noisy music, and the yelling cheers which rose above its streets. As I walked towards the hotel, the evening drove of negroes, male and female, shuffling through the streets in all haste, in order to escape the patrol and the last peal of the curfew bell, swept by me; and as I passed the guard-house of the police, one of my friends pointed out the armed sentries pacing up and down before the porch, and the gleam of arms in the room inside. Further on, a squad of mounted horsemen, heavily armed, turned up a by street, and with jingling spurs and sabres disappeared in the dust and darkness. That is the horse patrol. They scour the country around the city, and meet at certain places during the night to see if the niggers are all quiet. Ah, Fuscus! these are signs of trouble….

But Fuscus is going to his club; a kindly, pleasant, chatty, card-playing, cocktail-consuming place. He nods proudly to an old white-woolled negro steward or head-waiter a slave as a proof which I cannot accept, with the curfew tolling in my ears, of the excellencies of the domestic institution. (110)

On my way home again, I saw the sentries on their march, the mounted patrols starting on their ride, and other evidences that though the slaves are “the happiest and most contented race in the world” they require to be taken care of like less favored mortals. The city watch-house is filled every night with slaves, who are confined there till reclaimed by their owners, whenever they are found out after nine o clock, P. M., without special passes or permits. (118)

W. H. Russell, My Diary North and South (Boston, 1863)

A Political Discussion
“A Political Discussion”:  Illustrated street scene from post-Civil War Charleston